All sound bars are about simplifying the home-theater experience, but the Philips HTB3525B goes a step further than most, packing a sound bar, a Blu-ray player, and a streaming video player into a single box.
Even more impressive is that Philips has managed to keep the price down to a reasonable $300, hundreds less than the similar LG LAB540W SoundPlate ($550 street). And the HTB3525B isn't a slouch when it comes to sound quality either, holding its own against the excellent Sony HT-XT1. It's far from sonically perfect -- the bass tends to distort when you crank the volume -- but the Philips definitely passes muster for less critical listeners.
If you're looking for an ultra-simple, all-in-one, home-theater system that combines a sound bar, Blu-ray, and streaming into a reasonably stylish box, the Philips HTB3525B is an excellent value. It may not the best-sounding system, but it will fit the bill for anyone looking to upgrade beyond the built-in speakers on their TV.
Though many have tried, most of the speaker bases we've seen in the CNET offices have been unable to disguise what they are: ugly, black rectangles. The Philips suffers a little from this problem, but makes the best of a bad lot by dressing up in a black ash vinyl wrap and dark gray speaker cloth. Combined with the transparent LED display, the design has a charmingly '80s feel to it.
Its construction is solid, and unlike most competitors, it seems to be constructed entirely from wood -- probably MDF. The unit houses two 20W woofers accompanied by mylar tweeters, while underneath the unit is a ported 40W "subwoofer."
Unlike the dinky, credit-card remotes that ship with its competitors, Philips has thrown a full-strength clicker into the box. It's friendly and ergonomic, and it includes shortcuts to Netflix and YouTube. Not all the buttons work as you'd expect, however, but that's more a problem with the player than the remote -- more on that later.
The menu system is friendly, and all of the most-used sources (Target's Ticket on-demand service notwithstanding) are on the main page. Overall, it's an easier interface to navigate than most competitors' systems.
Given that you're paying a relatively small sum for a full Blu-ray system, the number of additional features is surprising. For under $300, the Surround Base fits includes Bluetooth and NFC pairing, and this is particularly remarkable because many Bluetooth-only speakers sell for $200. Built-in Wi-Fi only sweetens the deal.
While not as fully-featured as the LG SoundPlate's smart TV offering, the Philips offers arguably the most important apps, including Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. The rest of its suite is rounded out by Vudu, Target Ticket, Picasa, AccuWeather, Twitter, and Facebook. Spotify would have been nice, but it's not essential since Bluetooth gives you access to all the streaming audio services on your mobile device.
Where the Philips more noticeably trails the LG sound plate is the lack of a separate subwoofer. Sure, there's a "built-in sub," but the LG SoundPlate's wireless subwoofer undeniably delivers more overall low end. On the other hand, the HTB3525B does have one old-fashioned trick up its sleeve: an FM tuner!